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Running a ‘Small HGV’ Operation? Which Drivers’ Hour Rules Apply and Why

The rules that will apply to a particular HGV operation will depend upon the vehicles that an operator is using as well as what an operator is doing with them.  Knowing which rules apply is a vital first step in making sure that an operator and its drivers comply with the applicable rules.  Trite though this may sound, it is very easy to fall foul of the rules (and to breach them) if one does not know what the rules require or why and/or when they might be relevant.

Most operators will be familiar with the basic drivers’ hours and tachograph rules: firstly, what can drivers do (for example, how long may they drive and/or work before they are required to take a break or rest) and secondly, what are they required to record and how must those records be made.

For many operators and drivers these two sets of rules are sometimes regarded as being one and the same thing.  But on occasion a trawl through the regulations can help clarify how a business should approach making sure that it knows which rules apply to its operations and why.

What are the Relevant Regulations and What do They Say?

Article 2.1 of ‘561/2006’ states that:

“1. “This Regulation shall apply to the carriage by road:

(a) of goods where the maximum permissible mass of the vehicle including any trailer, or semi-trailer, exceeds 3,5 tonnes …”

Article 3.1 of Regulation (EU) 165/2014 (the tachograph regulation) states that –

“Tachographs shall be installed and used in vehicles registered in a Member State which are used for the carriage of passengers and goods by road and to which Regulation (EC) No. 561/2006 applies.”

So operators will need to fit tachographs in vehicles if the use of those vehicles (and any trailers which they may use to tow them) mean that the operation of those vehicles (and trailers) are required to be carried out in compliance with “561/2006”.

For most HGV operators (those operating large goods vehicles over 3,5 tonnes) the fitting of a tachograph is taken care of by the manufacturer with tachographs being fitted as standard. But what about operators who are using small lorries and vans that do not exceed 3,5 tonnes (and so do not come with a tachograph fitted as standard), which have the capability to tow a small trailer but when doing so would take them over 3,5 tonnes?  And what is the legal position for operators who use vehicles that do not exceed 3,5 tonnes, but which are fitted with tow bars – where do they stand?  Do they need to arrange for tachograph units to be retro-fitted just in case they may use the vehicle to tow a trailer in circumstances where ‘561/2006’ would apply?

Weights and Measures

This is not the place for a potentially esoteric discussion between ‘mass’ on the one hand and ‘weight’ on the other (weight being the force that a particular mass applies depending upon its location in the universe – so that one’s mass stays the same whether you are standing on earth or on the moon, but one’s weight changes because the force of gravity is greater on earth so that one is ‘lighter’ when standing on the moon).

Article 4 (m) of ‘561/2006 states that ‘maximum permissible mass’

“means the maximum authorised operating mass of a vehicle when fully laden”.

Government guidance confirms that ‘the maximum authorised mass means the weight of a vehicle or trailer including the maximum load that can be carried safely when it is being used on the road.  This is also known as gross vehicle weight (GVW) or permissible maximum weight.’

Gross vehicle weight is defined in The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 as –

“(a) in relation to a motor vehicle, the sum of the weights transmitted to the road surface by all the wheels of the vehicle”

And it is worth noting that this is different to ‘train weight’ which is defined as being –

“in relation to a motor vehicle which may draw a trailer, the maximum laden weight for the motor vehicle together with any trailer which may be drawn by it”

Where Does this Leave the Operators of Small HGVs and HGV Trailer Combinations?

The uses to which HGV operators put their vehicles are very varied; even more so when one takes into account those operators who run a mix of vehicles including works vans and small lorries instead of (or alongside) larger lorries.

Particular problems arise when businesses rely primarily on vehicles with a maximum permissible mass of no more than 3,5 tonnes.  The use of these vehicles does not require compliance with ‘561/2006’ and a tachograph is not required to be fitted to such vehicles (even if a tow bar is fitted), provided they are not also towing a trailer in circumstances where the maximum permissible mass of the vehicle and trailer combination does exceed 3,5 tonnes.  If (and when) that happens the rules – i.e. ‘561/2006′, the tachograph regulation and possibly the Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations 2005 – will apply, and a tachograph will be required to be fitted to the towing vehicle.

One can easily think of scenarios where this could be an issue.  Landscaping and gardening businesses that can make do for much of the time with 3,5 tonne lorries or smaller vehicles, but who occasionally need to hook up a trailer to carry an extra load for a particular job.  Outward bound activity providers that from time to time want to use a trailer to carry additional equipment for a particular activity.  The providers of exhibition stands and the like who sometimes have a larger job that lends itself to using a trailer.

What many of these businesses have in common is that they do not think of themselves as being HGV operators’ per se, they do not necessarily hold O Licences and they are not always aware of the occasions when their use of vehicles and trailers mean that ‘561/2006′ and the rules associated with the drivers’ hours rules apply so that their drivers are required to record their duties using a tachograph, and/or that their operations may only be carried out lawfully if they hold an O Licence.  Where 561/2006 does not apply, it may be the case that the domestic HGV drivers’ hours rules will apply.

Articles like this one can only act as signposts to operators and should help clarify points of law.  But the use of small HGVs with or without trailers in a mixed operation is a classic example of a business for which specific advice should be sought on the lawfulness of the operation and the application (or not) of the EU and domestic rules.  If this sounds like your business then get in touch with one of our team now on 01279 818280 or click here to send a message.

 

© Richard Pelly August 2018.  Article First appeared in Croner-I August 2018